Tooth decay occurs when damage from bacteria (germs) in your mouth starts to eat away at the enamel of your teeth. Over time, it may result in a cavity, which is a hole in your tooth. Left untreated, tooth decay can lead to infection, pain, and eventual tooth loss. The deeper the layers the decay effects, the worse the overall damage.
Causes of Tooth Decay
Food and bacteria can sometimes cause your teeth to decay. A sticky, clear substance known as plaque is constantly forming on your gums and teeth. It contains harmful bacteria that thrive on sugars found in the foods you consume.
When the bacteria keep feeding, they produce acids. These key acids attack your teeth for as long as 20 minutes or longer after you’re done eating. Eventually, they will destroy the enamel of your teeth, thus causing tooth decay.
Factors that Encourage Tooth Decay
- Failing to brush and floss your teeth on a regular basis.
- Not going to the dentist for regular cleanings and checkups.
- Consuming foods that are high in carbohydrates and sugar that feed harmful bacteria within the mouth.
- Not enough fluoride. Fluoride works to prevent tooth decay by making your teeth more resistant to harmful acids created by plaque.
- Lack of saliva. The role of saliva is to wash away damaging sugars and food in general to protect your teeth from developing decay. Many times, older adults are more prone to having a dry mouth overall.
- Smoking, or breathing in secondhand smoke
How Tooth Decay is Treated
The ideal tooth decay treatment primarily depends on the severity. If caught early enough before a cavity starts to form, it’s likely you can stop the decay by continuing to brush with a good fluoride toothpaste or even getting fluoride treatments, which is why it’s important to visit your dentist regularly.
Once the decay penetrates the enamel of the tooth, you may require at least one of the following treatments:
- If the cavity has already formed, you’ll need a filling. Once the decay is eliminated, your dentist will use a substance to fill the hole adequately.
- If your tooth is considerably damaged, and the decay is severe enough, your dentist will repair it using a cap, or crown, to replace that part of your tooth.
- If the root of your tooth is severely damaged, an extraction (removal) is likely necessary. Your dentist may replace your tooth with an implant or bridge.
- If your tooth is considerably infected, a root canal may be required to fully eradicate the diseased pulp of your tooth.
If you’re experiencing swelling and pain, there are things you can do to relieve your discomfort, including use of cold packs or ice on the outside area of your cheek for approximately 10 minutes at a time off and on throughout the day. It’s best to refrain from using any heat. Also, try taking an OTC (over-the-counter) pain reliever such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen. It’s important to follow the directions on all labels as well.
At Grace and Bowman Orthodontics, our medical staff will work with you to help prevent tooth decay. Taking care of your teeth, especially while wearing braces or Invisalign, can help keep them healthy. Contact Grace and Bowman Orthodontics today to schedule your consultation.